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Backwords: Milky Ways

“Nowadays, the so-called health experts frown disapprovingly on drinking milk straight from the cow…’’ Mike Shaw recalls the days when milk was delivered in churns, directly from local farm to house doorstep.

The smooth creaminess of milk fresh from the cow is a taste which recalls an era when there was no such thing as sliced bread and aeroplanes still had propellers.

Real ale drinkers of the old school have preserved an ultimate accolade for the flavour of the pinta pulled straight from the udder.

“It’s just like new milk,’’ is a verdict that says it all about Daisy’s quality product as the beer connoisseur quaffs his bitter and eyes the creamy residue that clings to the inside of his glass.

Nowadays, the so-called health experts frown disapprovingly on drinking milk straight from the cow. Just as they condemn sipping from cupped hands the sparkling but supposedly high-risk water from a gushing hillside spring.

When my generation were wartime school kids there were no such warnings. And doctors who now hesitate about giving milk their stamp of approval were claiming that every growing child needed a daily half-pinta.

On scores of farms and part-time smallholdings scattered around the Pennine countryside , children dipped their empty glasses in a bucket of foaming fresh milk for their bedtime drinks.

And, even if the milk was not quite warm, it still had the inimitable flavour of freshness when the farmer arrived in his horse-drawn float first thing in a morning.

Most farmers had then not got round to putting their milk in bottles. Instead, they gave it out direct from churn to jug on the doorstep in a measuring ladle with a handle that, when not in use, hung on the churn’s rim.

At school everything stopped for morning milk and the milk monitor had one of the most prestigious appointments that a teacher had to offer.

A crocodile of youngsters wound its way round the classroom walls, while at the head of the queue we helped ourselves to our bottle of mid-morning sustenance.

No plastic tops in those days. Nor plastic straws. Every bottle had a cardboard top, bearing a “drink more milk and be fit’’ or some-such slogan and with a perforated circle in the middle through which to push your paper straw.

That was the routine in my beloved primary school at West Slaithwaite. But I do believe we still had our milk every day in the grammar school at Royds Hall.

Does my memory play me tricks, or did we have biscuits - to buy, of course - at Royds as well? Dentists would surely have a fit if biscuits were on the menu these days instead of apples or raw carrots.

If the traditional milk-floats had a touch of old-fashioned romance, another horse-drawn vehicle positively brimmed over with colourful magnetism.

The friendly little pony pulling Gabrielli’s ice-cream cart was often trotting slowly around the precincts of Royds Hall at about the time school finished for the day.

And there always seemed something a little bit special - rather like fish and chips eaten out of the paper - about a threepenny cornet bought from the two-wheeled wooden cart, hand-painted in such brilliant colours.

The Gabrielli cart which used to travel the streets around Milnsbridge was the last of its kind in this part of the world.

The ice-cream business, it seems, was run by a group of brothers who with the march of time decided to mechanise their delivery vehicles.

So it was goodbye to the old horse and carts for the Gabriellis. But one of the Gabrielli brothers, George, rebelled against the decision and carried on with the help of his four-legged friend, Dolly.

It’s 40 years since George and Dolly disappeared from the local scene. And I’m sure they’ve been sorely missed.


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